Why do you teach piano?


A familiar scenario –

Teacher: “I’m excited to teach today!”

“I just love my students!”

“I love my job!”

“I love the piano!”

“I love music!”

“I want to instill value in the next generation!”

“I am so excited to teach today!”

Student shows up and sits down at the piano.

Opens the book.

No practice at all.

Teacher is frustrated.

There’s hope, though.

Maybe the student will crack open his book next week and practice the notes on the page.

Teacher delivers an inspiring message to the student, challenges him, then sends him on his way.

It’s lesson day again.

Teacher: “I am so excited to teach today.”

Student comes in.

The teacher is thrilled.

Student sits at the piano, opens his book, places his hands on the keys.

No practice yet again.

Teacher is frustrated, but musters enough energy and enough encouragement, from within, to say, “All is well. We’ll try again next week.”

Teacher is hopeful, and as the week presses on begins to get excited again.

It’s lesson day.

Teacher: “I am so excited to teach today!”

Student comes in and sits down at the piano.

No practice.

So, why do we do it?

Why do we put ourselves in this situation?

We’re trained musicians.

We’ve studied our instrument and become experts in our craft.

Why do we do it??

Why pour into students who, week after week, show up unprepared?

What’s the reason?

Why teach if it’s yielding the same results over, and over again?

Well, I can’t speak for you, but I can tell you why I do it.

Because I know I have something important to say.

One phrase that I speak to a student who is having a bad day (or an awesome day),  or experiencing something traumatic, might inspire and encourage her.

At some point, I’m going to say something that rings in that kid’s head from now through the rest of her life.

She’s going to know that Mr. Chris loves piano, Mr. Chris loves music, and Mr. Chris loves her!

Yes, it’s frustrating when students don’t practice.

It’s frustrating when they come to lesson after lesson unprepared, wasting our time and their parents’ hard-earned money.

And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say we should look for ways to encourage our students to practice.

And, not only them… But to encourage their parents to be more actively involved in their child’s music education, so that they’re not wasting their money, and so that their child is actually learning.

But, at the same time, even though your students are not always prepared, keep pouring into them.

They love you.

They respect you.

You may not witness it every single time you see the student, but keep up the outstanding work you’re doing.

Encourage them.

Teach them that music is important.

That music is a way to express themself.

Music is a gift that keeps giving.

One day, your student might just end up… Not in a concert hall or in front of thousands of people, not on the Naxos recording label…

But, at the local retirement facility, playing for the elderly.

Or, at a local community event raising funds for folks affected by a recent natural disaster.

Or, playing for a church worship service.

Or, just playing for their family at home, or for their own enjoyment.

What you’re doing is not going unnoticed.

You’re doing important work.

Keep it up!

Keep pouring into your students’ lives and know that you’re making a difference.

I hope this encourages you today.

I’d love to hear from you!

Why do you teach?

How do you stay inspired when your students don’t practice?

Please leave a comment below.

What is Rote Learning and Why Should I Teach By Rote?

teaching by rote

Rote piano teaching seems to be experiencing a resurgence.

But what does it mean to teach by rote?

Webster’s has two definitions for the word.

  1. “The use of memory usually with little intelligence.”
  2. “Mechanical or unthinking routine or repetition.”

I don’t really appreciate the first definition…

Little intelligence?

I guess Webster is trying to say that there’s no formal process for solving a problem such as an algebraic formula or the scientific method.

But it sounds demeaning!

The reality is that this method of learning is an excellent way for students to quickly discover musical patterns and develop their ear.

The following is a quote from the mid 20th-century Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki. I firmly believe his thought process.

The early years are crucial for developing mental processes and muscle coordination. Listening to music should begin at birth; formal training may begin at age three or four, but it is never too late to begin. Children learn words after hearing them spoken hundreds of times by others.

The primary concern among piano teachers in teaching the Suzuki method is that it takes so long to begin written notation.

So, why not adopt a hybrid approach? Why not teach music by rote and traditional notation at the same time?

There are several benefits to teaching by rote.

  • It forces students to quickly identify musical patterns.
  • It helps student’s ears develop more quickly.
  • It helps students learn precise rhythm and correct fingering.
  • It allows students to play more exciting music at an early age.
  • It paves the way to excellent musicianship.

Alfred Schnittke is one of my favorite composers and musical thinkers.

Schnittke advocated that the future well-rounded musician would feel at home with various styles. In other words, she would play jazz, classical, pop, and other styles equally well.

Do you know any musicians that can masterfully play in different styles?

Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, and Yo-Yo Ma come to mind.

So now that you have a good understanding of rote piano teaching and its many benefits, you may be asking, “what makes a good rote piece?”

Above all, patterns.

Music is all about patterns. Well-crafted music is full of familiar patterns to help listeners grasp the main themes and ideas.

Here are a few fantastic rote selections listed by Natalie Weber at the Music Matters Blog.

  • A Day in the Jungle by Jon George
  • Bumblebee Toccata by Lynn Freeman Olson
  • Buzzing Bee by Mark Nevin
  • Castle Days by Kathleen Massoud
  • Cross Current by Ted Cooper
  • Devil’s Night Dance by Catherine Rollin
  • Dragon Hunt by Nancy and Randall Faber
  • Dream Echoes by Nancy and Randall Faber
  • The Fly by Nancy and Randall Faber

Candle in the Night, The Music Train, and Running in Circles are three excellent rote pieces that you can find in the PracticeHabits.co store.

I love what Amy Greer has to say about scouring for rote piano pieces on Tim Topham’s brilliant Creative Piano Teaching Podcast.

She says that a good rote piano piece is a piece that’s easier to teach by patterns than traditional notation. If it’s simpler to learn from the music, then it’s not an ideal rote piece.

I hope that you’ve found this article to be helpful and informative.

As always, thank you for your ongoing support of the PracticeHabits.co community. I appreciate you.

Your friend,